Dallas Stars 'pay a big price' to get back into contention

Dallas Stars 'pay a big price' to get back into contention

Is there a better breakout candidate in the second half of the season than the Dallas Stars?

OK, we know that we’ve been waiting for the Stars to take the NHL by storm – pretty much since the summer. They made ‘all the right moves’ in the offseason.

Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky were brought in. Captain Jamie Benn was going to be amazing and so was Tyler Seguin. Here comes the Dallas Stars juggernaut!

Instead the most productive element of the Stars operation this year has been the team’s jumbotron.

Benn and Seguin have indeed been prolific – but the Stars have been up-and-down all year. And down for a long part – especially when they were 6-9-4 on Nov. 18. But as of Monday, Dallas is back in the playoff race just two points behind Calgary for the last Wild Card spot. How in the world did that happen?

It has occurred by ensuring all parts of their game have clicked at the same time, which wasn’t the case earlier in the season.

“Really, we’ve played some great games and maybe our goaltending hasn’t been the best. Then maybe we’ve had some good goaltending and we’ve had defensive breakdowns that have left our goaltender by himself. It really has been a combination of everything,” head coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think there are a lot of ways to lose and I think we’ve found every way.”

When Dallas made all its upgrades over the summer, the Stars put them in one position. Forward.

Spezza made them better down the middle. Hemsky added depth. But the Stars never really dealt with an area of weakness. Defense. It was basically ‘score enough goals and hope Kari Lehtonen stops everything that comes his way.’

As talented as Lehtonen is, that’s not a recipe for success, unless Ruff thought he was back in Buffalo in the late '90s with Dominik Hasek.

In Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski the Stars had two solid No. 2 or 3 defensemen, but no clear-cut No. 1. And once they started to realize this, Dallas began to slowly, methodically turn its season around.

They needed better team defense. Ruff thinks they made that shift.

“I think it all started with defending better, probably a month ago when we left for our trip out West, we started to keep the goals against down,” Ruff said. “It started there, though we had a couple of games here where the goals against have gotten up. The ability to score is one of our stronger suits, but one of the things that will allow us back in the hunt and remain consistent is to defend on a consistent basis.”

And as the Stars have slowly moved their way up the NHL standings they sit in a nice spot, just behind Calgary in the Wild Card and two points back of Los Angeles, a team that’s only behind Calgary because of its lack of wins.

Though the Flames have hung on for a while, and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, there’s always the wonder that an eventual letdown is a foregone conclusion. They’re young and success has come early and fast in their rebuilding process.

The Kings have been doing their usual rope-a-dope regular season type thing, but has all the playoff hockey over the last three years finally caught up to them?

Enter Dallas, who has basically been playing playoff hockey since December and has a veteran enough group to make a run.

“I think the one thing that will be evident by the end when this all shakes out and the smoke clears – if we get there, we’re going to have to pay a big price to get there,” Ruff said. “We should be playoff-ready.”

There are still problems with the Stars. In their last game, Dallas blew a two-goal lead to Chicago, but eventually pulled away for a 6-3 victory. In their previous game against the Capitals, Dallas blew a 3-0 lead, but eventually won 5-4. It’s these defensive problems that still worry Ruff and could hamper the Stars moving forward. Dallas’ 3.27 goals allowed per-game is third-worst in the NHL.

Earlier in the year, the Stars essentially tried to load their offense on Benn and Seguin. Now everyone is joining in per Blackout Dallas:

Against Washington, the Stars saw two goals from the first line (Seguin, Benn), two goals from the second line (Erik Cole, Jason Spezza), and a goal from the third line (Antoine Roussel). The love was shared and so was the plunder, which eventually led to the win.

The Dallas Stars played the sharing game again versus Chicago Sunday night. They received one goal from the first line (Seguin), one goal from the second line (Cole), two goals from the third line (Eakin x2), and two goals from the fourth line (Vernon Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff).

This sharing is producing wins, and the Dallas Stars need to learn how to harness this power and use it to their advantage in the upcoming games.

But it still leads back to defense. If they can tighten that up even more and GM Jim Nill can add a defenseman, maybe the Stars can go from bust to burst and fulfill our offseason prophecies! At very least they still have the jumbotron.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!